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Longing for Nicæa

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Timothy F. Kauffman


Roman Catholicism, as a religion, is a novelty of the late fourth century, but in order to be taken seriously she must at every opportunity claim Nicæan and ante-Nicæan origins for her novelties. Yet at the same time, there is nothing so foreign to Roman Catholicism as the Nicæan and ante-Nicæan Church. For this reason, while Roman Catholicism constantly attempts to lay claim to apostolicity, she must always at the same time distance herself from the practices and beliefs of the Church of the apostles. It is a love-hate relationship. Rome strives diligently to identify herself with the apostolic era, and then exhausts herself explaining why the Church of that era was so different from Roman Catholicism. What we find as we examine Rome’s vain striving for antiquity and continuity is an uncomfortable truth that lies beneath the surface of all of her posturing, a truth that can never be uttered aloud: She does not know whence she came.



The dissonance that exists between Rome’s claims to apostolicity and the actual origin of her doctrines is plainly observable in the words of her own apologists as they try to explain the antiquity of their religion. Did the early church believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary? “Of course,” they say. “Why, as early as the late fourth century we see plain manifestations of the dogma in the writings of the Fathers.” Did the early church believe that Mary was sinless? “Of course,” they say. “Why, as early as the late fourth century we see plain manifestations of the dogma.” Did the early church believe in the primacy of the three Petrine sees? “Of course,” they say. “Why, as early as the late fourth century the Council of Rome plainly testified of this.” Did the early church really believe that Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins was offered Thursday night at the Last Supper. “Of course,” they say. “Why, as early as the late fourth century Gregory of Nyssa wrote clearly of this.” Did the early Church see Mary as the model of Christian worship? “Of course,” they say. “Why, as early as the late fourth century, Ambrose prayed that his flock would have the spirit of Mary to glorify God.”


By “Early Church,” Roman Catholic apologists think to refer to the apostolic church of the first three centuries—the Nicæan and ante-Nicæan church. But the best they can do is prove the origins of a religion that emerged in the latter part of the fourth century. Rome’s only hope for apostolic authenticity is somehow to reach back to a time before she existed in order to lay claim to what she can never have. Thus, she longs painfully, achingly, desperately for the age of Nicæa in order to stake out a claim to apostolicity.


Cardinal Newman, a 19th century Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism, formally acknowledged the dissonance between modern Roman Catholicism and the ancient church when he developed the Development of Doctrine doctrine. The catalyst for his work was, as Newman knew quite well, that 19th century Roman Catholicism could not look into the mirror of the first three centuries and see herself looking back. Something was vastly different, and such a vast difference required an explanation. Thus was born Newman’s Development of Doctrine doctrine in order to explain what he himself acknowledged as “a want of accord between the early and the late aspects of Christianity” (John Henry Cardinal Newman, Essay on the Development of Doctrine, Introduction, paragraph 3). The objective of his essay was to show that the differences between the Early Church and Roman Catholicism could all be accounted for by the gradual “development of doctrine.” And thus, he concluded, the later emergence of Roman Catholic doctrines must have been the result of an unbroken, continuous process of doctrinal development since the apostolic era.


It is only by the “development of doctrine” that Roman Catholicism can lay claim to both antiquity and continuity. Roman Catholicism is offered to the world as the oldest Christian denomination, the only one that can trace its origins all the way back to the apostles. But as any student of Church history can easily discover—and this is precisely what Newman discovered—the contents are inconsistent with the packaging. What her salesmen cannot deny is that Roman Catholicism simply does not appear to be as antiquated as she claims, and because of that, her continuity from the days of the apostles is called into question as well.


As we have on other occasions noted, another convert from Anglicanism, Roman Catholic priest John Brande Morris, conceded this very point—namely that “early traces” of Roman Catholicism are “invisible” except to the eye of the Catholic:


“Apply this to the Catholic religion : if there are early traces of identity of belief, they may be invisible, except to the eye of a Catholic, but perfectly clear to him.” (Jesus, the Son of Mary, by the Rev. John Brande Morris, M .A., 1851, pp. 25-33.)


The heart and soul of all Roman Catholic apologetics therefore is to allege antiquity and to explain away discontinuity. Her apologists are very much invested in those two activities, and are ever mindful of their duties. Thus, Rome is constantly pining for, longing for, yearning and stretching and reaching and grasping for the age of Nicæa and earlier. Yet for all of her earnest grasping, she is constantly finding that her affection is not returned by the Nicæan and ante-Nicæan church—a church that remains conspicuously just beyond her reach. Like a badgered but uncooperative witness, the Early Church was unaware that Roman Catholicism even existed, and refuses to capitulate even under a hostile cross examination.


It does not take long to discover this rather distinct pattern as each uniquely Roman Catholic doctrine is evaluated for its historicity. As Roman Catholic apologists inadvertently testify, the consistent pattern is to reach back to Nicæa and earlier, only to discover that authentically Roman Catholic doctrines cannot be found there. Instead they emerge suddenly, in stepwise fashion, toward the end of the fourth century, well after the Council of Nicæa.


Roman Primacy


Let us start by recalling our last two articles, False Teeth and “Unless I am Deceived…”, in which we showed that Roman Catholic efforts to find Papal primacy in Canon 6 of Nicæa are of necessity founded upon the grossly anachronistic assumption that the Diocese of Egypt existed thirty years earlier than it actually did. That anachronism, first employed by Jerome, dates to the late fourth century. It is only by casting that anachronism retroactively upon Nicæa that Roman apologists can find early fourth century Roman primacy in Canon 6. Move the creation of the Diocese of Egypt back into the latter part of the fourth century where it belongs, and Canon 6 loses all of its “papal primacy” teeth, and instead depicts Rome as a lesser metropolitan in the Diocese of Italy which was at the time administered from Milan.


Recall as well the fraudulent efforts of Popes Zosimus and Leo to package Roman primacy in Nicæan wrapping, the history of which we recounted in our four part series, Anatomy of a Deception. Pope Zosimus in 418 A.D. had misconstrued the canons of the Council of Sardica (343 A.D.) to confer judicial primacy on Rome, when in fact Sardica had merely conferred judicial primacy on Metropolitans—all Metropolitans—who were then authorized to rule on, and then forward, appeals to the Emperor’s court.


But Zosimus had misread the Canon and tried to force universal Roman judicial primacy upon it. Then, in order to imbue his misconstruction with Nicæan antiquity, Zosimus simply attributed the canons of Sardica (343 A.D.) backwards onto the Council of Nicæa (325 A.D.). Pope Leo then, with full knowledge of the misconstruction, continued to conflate Sardica with Nicæa and argued that the Council of Nicæa had conveyed judicial primacy on Rome. By the time Pope Leo’s delegates arrived at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.), the Latin version of the canons of Nicæa had been edited to state, “The church of Rome has always had primacy,” something none of the authentic Greek records of Nicæa actually said.


That is Rome’s constant ambition and temptation—to lay claim to the Nicæan era, something that the facts of history simply will not allow.


Recall as well our eight part series, The Visible Apostolicity of the Invisibly Shepherded Church, in which we showed that the Early Church was completely unaware of Roman primacy or even the need for an earthly chief shepherd or an earthly chief metropolis. The best case Rome could make for ante-Nicæan Roman primacy, as we showed in part 5 of that series, is from a bad English translation of a barbaric Latin translation of a lost Greek original of Irenæus’ works. It is there that Irenæus is made to insist that all churches must “agree” with the church of Rome (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 3, paragraph 2). Yet in Irenæus’ historical context, we found that the surrounding churches, including Irenæus’ church (Eusebius, Church History, Book V, chapter 24, paragraphs 9-11), were constantly disagreeing with Rome, correcting, rebuking her heresies and otherwise keeping Rome at bay. In fact we find that Irenæus had himself come to Rome to correct the errors being advanced by “Pope” Eleutherius (Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies). Irenæus had not come to Rome “to agree with” her at all.


In reality, upon a more contextual reading, Irenæaus insisted that it was the duty of all churches to meet with Rome, not to agree with her, and by meeting with her to resist and forestall her propensity to wander from the fold and think above her station. In spite of these data, Rome maintains on the basis of Irenæus that the whole church agreed with and submitted to a second century Roman primacy that actually did not emerge until the latter part of the fourth.


Much of Rome’s argument for ancient Roman primacy is built upon horribly anachronstic reconstructions of Nicæa, and a notoriously “barbaric” translation of a lost ante-Nicæan original work.


Yes, Rome urgently seeks and desperately needs to find ante-Nicene evidence for her doctrines, so she is willing to accept fraud, anachronism and unreliable translations to make her case.


In short, she is always reaching back for Nicæan antiquity, always longing for Nicæa.


The Three Petrine Sees


Recall as well Bryan Cross’s article on Ignatius of Antioch, in which he alleges that Ignatius was deferential to Rome. Ignatius’ alleged deference was taken to suggest an early manifestation and recognition of Roman primacy. This, says Cross, is because “at this time [c. 107 A.D.] there was a recognized primacy in the three apostolic churches: Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria … because of their relation to St. Peter” (Cross, St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church). We search in vain through the ancient records to find the primacy of which Cross speaks, the primacy of “the three Petrine Sees.” Cross attempts (in the comment section of his article) to find the primacy of “the three Petrine Sees” in Canon 6 of the Council of Nicæa which canon mentions the three metropoli of Alexandria, Rome and Antioch. But that canon neither makes mention of their primacy, nor of their particular relationship to Peter, nor even that Rome was chief of the three. As we showed last week, the mention of those three particular metropoli was simply because Rome’s diminutive provincial stature within the greater Diocese of Italy provided a relevant illustration of how Alexandria could maintain its provincial Metropolitan jurisdiction within the greater Diocese of Oriens—a diocese that was otherwise governed from Antioch. The canon’s mention of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch had nothing at all to do with their ostensibly Petrine origins, or even with any hierarchical primacy, but rather with the fact that Rome was subordinate to Milan in Italy, as Alexandria was to Antioch in Oriens, each in its respective diocese. There is not so much as a hint of Petrine language in the canon itself.


Cross therefore had to fill in for Nicæa that which Nicæa did not say for itself:


“The order of these three sees was recognized by the Council apparently on the basis of the origin of the Sees.” (Cross, St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church)


His proof for this? A letter from Gregory the Great in the late 6th century (Cross, St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church, comment 7). In fact, as we showed in A See of One, the theory of “the three Petrine Sees” originated in the latter part of the fourth century, no earlier. The first explicit reference to it was at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D. (Council of Rome, III.3). The very idea of it was unknown to the earlier church.


Thus, in his efforts to establish the antiquity of his position, Cross actually tried to trace the origins of concept of the primacy of “the three Petrine sees” to the Niceæan and ante-Nicæan era, when in fact it originated in the latter part of the fourth century.


But Rome desperately needs Nicæan antiquity, and thus, she is always grasping at Nicæa.


The title “Pontifex” applied to the Bishop of Rome


Recall the Catholic Encyclopedia‘s attempt to find ante-Nicæan evidence that the Bishop of Rome was commonly addressed under the title “Pontifex Maximus.” The actual transfer of the office of Pontifex from pagan Rome to Roman Catholicism took place in 380 A.D. when Emperor Theodosius I issued De Fide Catholica, claiming that Pope Damasus I was the new Pontifex of the state religion. Two years later, Emperor Gratian formally renounced the title Pontifex Maximus.


Prior to that, the Bishop of Rome never owned the title. There is simply no evidence that he was formally addressed as Pontifex prior to the end of the fourth century.


Of course there is one incidental use of the term, in which the Bishop of Rome was mocked and ridiculed and derided under that title. Bishop Callistus of Rome had claimed the power to remit the sins of adultery and fornication, a claim to which Tertullian responded in disbelief. The presumption, the arrogance, the unmitigated gall! Who did Callistus think he was? The Pontifex Maximus?


“I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus — that is, the bishop of bishops — issues an edict: ‘I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.’ O edict, on which cannot be inscribed, ‘Good deed!’ … But it is in the church that this (edict) is read, and in the church that it is pronounced; and (the church) is a virgin! Far, far from Christ’s betrothed be such a proclamation!” (Tertullian, On Modesty, Ch. 1)


Notably, Tertullian here objects to the imperial nature of the offensive decree, and objects that the duty of a bishop was to preside ministerially, “not imperially” (Tertullian, On Modesty, Ch. 21). Then he informs Callistus that the only power conferred on Peter was to remit sins committed against Peter:


“Observe what He bids. Who, moreover, was able to forgive sins? This is His alone prerogative: for ‘who remits sins but God alone?’ … Hence the power of loosing and of binding committed to Peter had nothing to do with the capital sins of believers.” (Tertullian, On Modesty, Ch. 21)


Clearly, by objecting to Callistus’ odious decree, Tertullian had used the title Pontifex Maximus as a term of derision and ridicule in order to mock him. But because Roman apologists are ever desirous to find ante-Nicæan evidence for their novelties, even such occasions as this must be turned to Rome’s advantage. Thus the Catholic Encyclopedia takes Tertullian’s derogation of Callistus as if it proved that the title of Pontifex had been commonly attached to the Bishop of Rome as early as the second century:


“As regards the title Pontifex Maximus … . Tertullian, as has already been said, uses the phrase of Pope Callistus. Though his words are ironical, they probably indicate that Catholics already applied it to the pope.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, The Pope)


Such is the desperation of Rome, that she is forced to take Tertullian’s insult on the chin in order to lay claim to the title by which he delivered the insult. The actual conferral of the title “Pontifex” upon the Bishop of Rome is not found until the decree of Emperor Theodosius I in the latter part of the fourth century.


But Rome needs Nicæan antiquity, and thus, she is always stretching back in time beyond Nicæa to find proof of her origins.


Relic Veneration


Recall the efforts by Roman Catholic priest, Fr. William Saunders, to imbue relic veneration with ante-Nicæan antiquity. After making some attempts to find the “use” of relics in Scripture, and in the burial of Polycarp, he identified 312 A.D. as the point when Roman Catholicism started exhuming relics of dead saints for veneration:


“After the legalization of the Church in 312, the tombs of saints were opened and the actual relics were venerated by the faithful. A bone or other bodily part was placed in a reliquary—a box, locket and later a glass case—for veneration.” (Saunders, Why Do We Venerate Relics?)


By this sleight of pen, Saunders attempted to place the practice earlier than the council of Nicæa. But as we showed in our article, Diggin’ Up Bones, the first recorded instance of extracting the bones of saints for veneration did not actually occur until 354 A.D. when the emperors initiated the practice. But even in 356 A.D. when Anthony discovered some people in Egypt mummifying “good men” and “holy martyrs” and keeping them in their homes, “thinking in this to honour the departed,” he sternly corrected them saying “that this thing was neither lawful nor holy at all.” Rather, the dead were to be buried, not kept above ground. Upon receiving this instruction, the unlawful practice was abandoned, and the people “gave thanks to the Lord that they had been taught rightly” (Athanasius, Life of Anthony, paragraph 90).


One of the earliest recorded instances of “the faithful” actually opening up tombs and collecting the relics of martyrs for personal veneration—something Saunders dated to 312 A.D.—is a letter from Basil placed in 373 A.D. (Basil, Letter 155). Saunders attempted to trace the practice of relic veneration to the time before Nicæa, yet it cannot be found any earlier than the late fourth century.


Rome needs Nicæan antiquity, so she is always grasping at the age of Nicæa.


The Immaculate Conception


Recall the statement by Pope Pius IX in his 1854 proclamation, Ineffabilis Deus, in which document he promulgated the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary. According to Pius IX, “illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify” of the “doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus,1854). But as we showed in “A Significant Turning Point…”, Roman Catholic scholars have long acknowledged that it is difficult to trace the origins of the doctrine to a time any earlier than the end of the fourth century:


“One of the most perplexing problems in patristic Mariology revolves about Mary’s holiness. … From the close of the Apostolic Age to the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) the literary heritage of Western Christianity contains so remarkably little on the theme of Our Lady’s holiness that a pointed question is inevitable. Was the pre-Nicene West even conscious of the problem?” (Evangelical Catholic Apologetics, The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God from Juniper Carol’s Mariology and Ullathorne’s Immaculate Conception)


As those same scholars acknowledge in the same article, “A significant turning point in the Mariological consciousness of the West does not occur until 377″ A.D.. Thus, Pius IX’s claim to the ante-Nicene antiquity of the doctrine actually falls quite flat. The early church was completely unaware of Mary’s immaculacy.


But Rome needs Nicæan antiquity, and therefore, she is always longing for Nicæa.


Mary as the Ark of the Covenant


Recall Roman Catholic apologist Scott Hahn’s efforts to find the belief of Mary as the “Ark of the New Covenant” in the Early Church. It was during his talk under that title that someone actually asked Hahn if he had any proof of it:


“Where do we find specific examples of Mary as Ark of the Covenant in the early Church?” (Answering Common Objections, A Closer Look at Christ’s Church, Mary, Ark of the Covenant, see “added notes”)


In response, Hahn gave Hippolytus as an example, dating the belief to the early 3rd century, well before the council of Nicæa:


“We find that already at the beginning of the 3rd Century in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome” (Answering Common Objections, A Closer Look at Christ’s Church, Mary, Ark of the Covenant, see “added notes”).


But as we showed in Searching for the Lost Ark, Hippolytus said explicitly that “the ark made of imperishable wood was the Saviour Himself” (Hippolytus, Fragments, On the Psalms, Oration on ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’). Hippolytus did not think the Ark of the New Covenant was Mary at all.


Other ante-Nicene documents are brought forward by Rome to prove the antiquity of the doctrine, but as we showed in the same article, those documents are known to be corrupted or fraudulent. For example, the 3rd century writings of Gregory Thaumaturgus are brought forth to support an early date for the teaching, for he is alleged to say that “the holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without” (Gregory Thaumaturgus (213 – 270 A.D.), First Homily). Yet even Roman Catholic scholars acknowledge the Homily to be a spurious work, “of doubtful genuineness” (Livius, Thomas, The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries, (London: Burns and Oates, 1893), p. 48n)).


In fact, it is not until the end of the fourth century that we find statements supporting a belief in Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. Thus, Rome’s efforts to discover ante-Nicæan evidence of the teaching are found to be quite erroneous.


But Rome needs ante-Nicæan antiquity, and thus, she is always longing for Nicæa.


“Incarnational” Worship


Recall Mark Shea’s criticism of Evangelicals because of their alleged “fear of the incarnation.” In his article on the subject, he alleged that Evangelicals have a “horror of the physical” and therefore they “get away from the Incarnation as fast as they possibly can” whenever they encounter things like relics, icons, statues, images, candles, priests, liturgy, the Mass sacrifice and Eucharistic adoration. The reason, he said, is that Evangelicals do not fully appreciate the incarnation and the implications it has for New Testament worship. We should worship the Eucharist and sacrifice it, and venerate images, relics and statues because God is alleged to meet us “incarnationally” through these means. After all, he says, the Early Church worshiped in God this way.


Evangelicals, by way of contrast, prefer worship that is “spiritual”—which Shea denigrates as “disembodied”—so foreign to them is the “incarnational” worship of the Early Church. The evidence Shea provides for “incarnational worship” is John of Damascus (c. 675—749 A.D.). But as we showed in our article, Novel Antiquity, it is the ante-Nicæan and Nicæan Church that in reminds us that we do not worship an unseen God with things that are seen, and we do not worship an incorporeal being with corporeal offerings, and we do not worship God with images, incense, candles and smoke. “For if God is not seen,” wrote Lactantius at the turn of the fourth century, “He ought therefore to be worshipped with things which are not seen” (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book VI, chapter 25). Early in the fourth century, Lactantius was ridiculing pagan Rome’s use of candles in worship, noting that it is inappropriate to use them in the worship of the true God (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book VI, chapter 2, On the Worship of False Gods and the True God). Even at the end of the fourth century, Epiphanius was protesting as “contrary to the Scriptures,” an “image either of Christ or of one of the saints … hung up in Christ’s church” (Jerome, Letter 51.9, From Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, 394 A.D.).


No, the Early Church was unfamiliar with Shea’s allegedly “incarnational” worship, and did not believe that God met us “incarnationally” through these means.


But Rome needs Nicæan antiquity, and thus, she is always longing and reaching for Nicæa.


The Sacrifice of the Mass



Recall Roman Catholic apologist Scott Hahn’s claim that Christ had instituted the sacrifice of the New Covenant at the Last Supper. As we showed in Melito’s Sacrifice, and again in The ‘Certainty’ of ‘Cumulative Probability’, Hahn cited Melito’s second century Peri Pascha as proof that the Early Church believed in the Sacrifice of the Mass. And yet the Peri Pascha says nothing of a Thursday night sacrifice at the Last Supper. The only time he mentions Christ’s sacrifice is when he refers to the Cross.


Further, we showed that Cyprian of Carthage (200 – 258 A.D.) did not believe Jesus could offer His blood until He had first been “trampled upon and pressed” on the cross (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 7), making a Thursday night sacrifice impossible. Likewise, Aphrahat the Persian Sage (c. 270 — c. 345 A.D.) insisted that it is the Jews, not the Early Church, who sacrifice on Thursday. “Our day of great suffering, however, is Friday,” he wrote, “the fifteenth day,” and again, “our great day is Friday … the day of the crucifixion” (Aphrahat, Demonstration 12, On the Passover, chapters 8, 12). The idea of a Thursday night sacrifice at the Last Supper is a late fourth century novelty.


As we also showed in our series, Their Praise was their Sacrifice, the Douay Catechism claimed that “All the Holy Popes, and Fathers, and Councils of the primitive ages” (Douay Catechism, (1649), pg. 90) believed that the Roman Mass Sacrifice was the fulfillment of Malachi 1:11, “and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.”


Yet, the evidence shows the opposite. As we showed in our series, Their Praise was their Sacrifice, the Early Church did not believe it at all. Tertullian explicitly saw the fulfillment of Malachi 1:11 in “simple prayer from a pure conscience” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book IV, chapter 1). In fact, Eusebius, who was present at the council of Nicæa, denied that we should offer anything but “these unembodied and spiritual sacrifices” of praise, prayer and a contrite heart (Eusebius of Cæsarea, Proof of the Gospel, Book I, Chapter 10). Notably in the canons of the Council of Nicæa there is a reference to an “offering” and “those who offer” (Canons 5, 11, 13, 18, 20), but the bread and wine are never the direct object of that verb. The only time “to offer” has a direct object is in reference to “prayer” in Canon 20, as we would expect. And the only time the bread and wine are the direct object of a verb, it is when men “give the Body of Christ” to other ministers, or when deacons “receive the eucharist even before the bishops,” or when they “receive the eucharist according to their order after the presbyters from the hands of the bishop or the presbyter” (Canon 18). A sacrifice of praise and thanks was offered to God, and bread and wine were given to and received by men. The Council of Nicæa knew nothing of the Roman Mass sacrifice.


The Douay Catechism claimed that Nicæa had recognized “that the mass is the self same sacrifice of bread and wine that had been instituted by our Saviour” (Douay Catechism, (1649), pg. 90), but it was not until 382 A.D. that Gregory of Nyssa first “realized” that Jesus had sacrificed Himself in the elements of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Space of Three Days, Oration I). Thus, Maurice de la Taille exults that Gregory “makes use of this reckoning more remarkably than all the other Fathers,” and finally provides “a most appropriate and convincing illustration of our explanation of the Supper” (de la Taille, The Mystery of Faith, chapter 3, §1.B.a, n71). Gregory’s “remarkable,” “appropriate” and “convincing illustration” of the Mass Sacrifice was about fifty years too late to be authentically Nicæan.


But Rome is constantly trying to date her novelties to the Early Church, for Rome needs Nicæan antiquity, and thus, she is always longing for Nicæa.


The Perpetual Virginity of Mary


Recall the statement by lay Catholic apologetics organization, Biblical Catholic Apologetics, in which this telling observation is conceded:



“Great teachers of the Church from at least the fourth century spoke of Mary as having remained a virgin throughout her life” (Biblical Catholic Apologetics, Mary: Virgin and Ever Virgin).


We notice with Biblical Catholic Apologetics that all of their sources come down to us from the latter part of the fourth century:


“Athanasius (Alexandria, 293 – 373

Epiphanius (Palestine, 315? – 403)

Jerome (Stridon, present day Slovenia, 345? – 419)

Augustine (Numidia, now Algeria, 354 – 430)

Cyril (Alexandria, 376 – 444)

… and others.” (Biblical Catholic Apologetics, Mary: Virgin and Ever Virgin).


Perhaps Irenæus can lend some help from the second century. Did he not affirm Mary’s perpetual virginity? Another Roman Catholic ministry claims that “St. Irenaeus … upheld the perpetual virginity of Mary.” But did he? As preeminent Roman Mariologist, Fr. Juniper Carol acknowledges,


“according to those authentic writings of his which have come down to us … there is nothing in these translated passages to show that Irenaeus held the permanence of Mary’s virginity” (Juniper Carol, The Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, Part II, The Patristic Tradition Concerning Mary’s Virginity).


But what about Origen in the third century? Did he not acknowledge that Mary remained perpetually a virgin? It would seem so, based on his recounting of an apocryphal tradition of which he was aware. He wrote:


“But some say, basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter, as it is entitled, or ‘The Book of James,’ that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end… And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the first-fruit among men of the purity which consists in chastity, and Mary among women; for it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the first-fruit of virginity.” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Book 10, chapter 17)


The problem here is that Origen denied Mary’s virginity in partu, that is, that her physical virginity was preserved during Christ’s birth. It is impossible for Mary to remain physically a virgin after Christ’s birth if she ceased physically to be a virgin during Christ’s birth. He wrote of Mary,


“In the case of every other woman, it is not the birth of an infant but intercourse with a man that opens the womb. In the case of every other woman, it is not the birth of an infant but intercourse with a man that opens the womb. But the womb of the Lord’s mother was opened at the time when her offspring was brought forth …” (Origen, Homilies on Luke, Homily 14, paragraphs 7-8).


As Fr. William Most insists, however, it is an infallible Roman Catholic teaching on Mary’s perpetual virginity that she remained physically a virgin in partu, and therefore we cannot rely upon Origen for ante-Nicæan evidence for the doctrine.


But what about Clement of Alexandria, also in the third century? Taking a position opposite of Tertullian’s, Clement of Alexandria, again basing his position on apocryphal tradition, notes that “some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book VII, chapter 16). But the problem here is that Clement cannot be made to attest to her virginity in perpetuity. Juniper Carol tries to get Clement to support the doctrine, but does so with extreme caution:


“If the Latin adaptation of Clement … expresses his personal views accurately, he certainly held Mary’s virginity post partum.” (Juniper Carol, The Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, Part II, The Patristic Tradition Concerning Mary’s Virginity)


But as Fr. Carol acknowledges in the footnotes, Clement’s views on this are not certain at all, for they come from a 9th century Latin adaptation that is known to be unreliable:


“We cannot rely absolutely on this text, since it is a translated adaptation, with the expressed intention of expurgating anything that might be offensive…” (Juniper Carol, The Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, Part II, The Patristic Tradition Concerning Mary’s Virginity).


Aside from the fact that no reliable testimony on Mary’s perpetual virginity emerges from the Early Church, the additional problem with all of these early opinions, as Fr. Carol acknowledges, is that nobody seemed to think the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity was an apostolic belief. People were opining based on personal preference, private opinions and apocryphal writings, but there is no sense that there was an apostolic tradition to undergird the opinions. Carol writes of this very problem,


“Whatever their origins, we have no grounds for concluding that the Apocrypha contained and transmitted an authentic apostolic tradition concerning the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity; in each instance such a tradition would have to be established—an impossible task with our present documentary sources. Moreover, in themselves, the apocryphal narratives scarcely measure up to the quality of sober objectivity characteristic of the transmission of a doctrine that is authentically apostolic in origin.” (Juniper Carol, The Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, Part II)


In the face of such a problem, Rome tries to invoke her typical Nicæan trump card. One organization makes a back-door attempt to trace the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity to Nicæa:


“In the Nicene Creed, the issue ‘born of Mary, always a virgin’ states that this has been the traditional observance.” (Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, Mary, Ever Virgin)


Another makes the passing reference to the fact that Athanasius called Mary “ever-Virgin.” And after all, Athanasius had been present at Nicæa:


“The Patristic writers also had no difficulty in asserting Mary’s perpetual virginity. For example, St. Athanasius (373 A.D.), bishop of Alexandria, who was, as a deacon, active at the First Council of Nicaea, stated that Jesus ‘took human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary.'” (John A. Hammes, The Patristic Praise of Mary)


From these citations, ought we believe that the Council of Nicæa held to Mary’s perpetual virginity, even if Irenæaus, Origen and Clement cannot be made to do so? That is the implication of the attempts to attach Mary’s perpetual virginity to the Council and its creed.


But in reality, even though Athanasius really was present at Nicæa, his description of Mary as “ever-virgin” dates to 360 A.D., not to the Council (Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 2, chapter 70). And even though later versions of the Nicæan creed included “ever virgin” as a description of Mary (i.e., 2nd Constantinople, 554 A.D.), the language was never actually applied to Mary at Nicæa.


So when did the tradition actually resolve into an article of faith? What Juniper Carol can tell us is that in the East, “even in the middle of the fourth century,” we still find writers “of considerable authority and prestige, who attributed to Jesus a veritable cortege of brothers and sisters.” But then in the west, sometime between 350 and 400 A.D., the question of Our Lady’s perpetual virginity “was settled for all time” (Juniper Carol, The Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, Part II).


In other words, for all the fanfare about the ante-Nicene and Nicene antiquity of the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, early evidence prior to Nicæa cannot be made to support it, and is strictly based on apocryphal writings and private opinion, lacking any apostolic warrant whatsoever.


But Rome needs Nicæan antiquity for her doctrines, so Nicæa is invoked to shore up the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, even though Nicæa actually said nothing of it. For Rome is always longing for Nicæa.


Kneeling on the Lord’s Day


We note this same tendency in the way Catholic Answers responded to the inquiry of a Protestant reader about kneeling during Mass. We addressed this particular point in our article, “It’s Complicated.” The response from Catholic Answers was as preposterous as it was indignant:


“Your question is a surprise because you probably should be asking yourself why you don’t kneel in your Protestant services. Scripture suggests you should. In Ephesians 3:14 Paul says, ‘I kneel before the Father,’ and in Acts 9:40 Peter ‘knelt down and prayed.’ The Catholic habit of kneeling is consistent with Scripture and is another manifestation of the continuity between the Church of the first century and the Catholic Church of today.” (Catholic Answers, Why Do Catholics Kneel?)


We can scarcely imagine a more unsuitable description of kneeling than “another manifestation of continuity” between Rome and the first century church. The problem with the above answer is that kneeling on Sundays is an 11th century novelty, and it had been explicitly prohibited—by popes and councils—for a thousand years. The early church fathers considered it unlawful, and Nicæa prohibited it explicitly (Nicæa, Canon 20). And that council, said Pope Leo, had “laid down a code of canons for the Church to last till the end of the world” (Leo the Great, Letter 106, paragraph 4). Those inviolable canons were reaffirmed by 1st Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, 2nd Constantinople, 3rd Constantinople, Trullo, 2nd Nicæa, 4th Constantinople and Pope Hadrian I.


Then suddenly, in a manifestation of a quantum leap of discontinuity, Roman Catholicism introduced the practice of kneeling on Sundays at the end of the eleventh century in order to worship the consecrated host at mass. And yet, when a Protestant dares to question why Rome kneels on Sundays, the knee-jerk response of the Roman Catholic is to allege ante-Nicæan antiquity for the practice, and to demand Protestant adherence to the allegations.


But the Nicæan and ante-Nicæan church did not believe in kneeling on Sundays in worship—a novel practice that Rome introduced in the eleventh century when Eucharistic adoration “burst forth throughout Europe” (Victoria M. Tufano, What’s the history of adoration of the blessed sacrament?, US Catholic). The Catholic Encyclopedia explains:


“The practice of kneeling during the Consecration was introduced during the Middle Ages, and is in relation with the Elevation which originated in the same period.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Genuflexion)


No, the early church forbade kneeling on the Lord’s Day. As we explained in When “Mary” Got Busy and “It’s Complicated,” there is a particular reason that this novelty originated at the end of the eleventh century, instead of the fourth.


But in any case, Rome is constantly trying to date her novelties to the Early Church, for Rome needs Nicæan antiquity. And thus, she is always longing, aching, and pining and reaching and grasping for Nicæa.


But Nicæa will not return Rome’s unsolicited affections.


To summarize, we simply recall that Rome’s attempts to find Papal Primacy in the 6th Canon of Nicæa is founded upon a gross anachronism. Pope Leo’s attempts to find impute Roman judicial primacy to Nicæa was wholly fraudulent. Bryan Cross’s attempts to place the primacy of the Three Petrine sees in Ignatius of Antioch and Canon 6 of Nicæa required that he impute a late-fourth century teaching retroactively upon the Early Church. Rome’s attempts to find Pontifex Maximus used in the Early Church is based upon Tertullian’s use of the title as an insult. The attempt to place the exhumation and veneration of martyr’s relics before Nicæa required that a late-fourth century practice be incorrectly placed in 312 A.D.. Pius IX’s attempts to impute the Immaculate Conception to the Early Church was found to be a terrible historical inaccuracy. Roman Catholic attempts to prove an ante-Nicæan belief in Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant required a misrepresentation of Hippolytus, and relied upon other documents known to be fraudulent and spurious. Roman Catholic criticism of the allegedly “anti-incarnational” worship of Protestants required evidence from the late fourth century and beyond, because the Early Church was apparently “anti-incarnational” in its worship, too, by Roman Catholic standards. The Sacrifice of the Mass cannot be found at Nicæa, and does not finally find an advocate until Gregory of Nyssa in 382 A.D.. Early proof of the perpetual virginity of Mary required a later modification to the Nicæan creed, and relied upon the words of Athanasius, 35 years removed from the Council. The allegation of the “continuity” of kneeling on the Lord’s Day since the first century required that a thousand years of explicit prohibitions of the practice be ignored, including Nicæa’s outright prohibition of the practice.


In other words, there is at least a 300-year gap between the apostolic era and Rome’s novelties. And importantly, that does not leave a lot of time for doctrines to develop. Rather, they seemed instead to emerge spontaneously. We noted above, in reference to Cardinal Newman’s “Development of Doctrine,” that he attributed the later emergence of Roman Catholic teachings to an unbroken, continuous process of doctrinal development since the apostolic era. But what we find when we examine the historical origins of Roman Catholicism is not a gradual, continuous emergence of the doctrines since the age of the apostles, but rather a sudden, step-wise emergence of error at the end of the fourth century.


And to cover up her later origins, Rome consistently, perpetually, instinctively and relentlessly lavishes her affections upon the Council of Nicæa.


But Nicæa stubbornly refuses to requite them.

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